Design principles for building user engagement

luke   Luke Wroblewski – Content Page Design Best Practices
One of the talks at the IA Summit was by Luke Wroblewski, author of two books and various resources published on his site. If you can see/hear the presentation at this location, I would urge you to do so. There will be something in there I have missed! The content he shared, was an insightful window into how we design pages and how the business requirements of a page may actually work against it. It really reminded me about the mechanics of persuasion, and he highlighted some insights explicitly. The following observations were made by Wroblewski.

The web ecosystem

Conceptually, although we illustrate site maps as tree-structures, we know the pages exist with specific unique relationships to other web content.

We also know that the paths to content are becoming more fluid and not just about search. They are becoming more about authority recommendations from trusted sources or conversations around subjects with peers.

Wroblewski breaks this ecosystem down into;

Communication – Instant Messenger, Twitter, Email

Display Surfaces – Facebook, Netvibes

Content Creators – Blogs, websites

Content Aggregators – Digg, Slashdot

Search – Google, Yahoo, MSN etc

This ecosystem will be different for every site, and every user has their own network (whether its explicitly or tacitly known).

Presenting the user with clear CTAs

Calls to action are often ignored and yet it’s the reason for a user’s site visit. On news websites, users want to read content   and yet commercial pressure tends to crowd the content area.


This slide highlights the NY Times content area

Wroblewski showed some examples of where advertising and irrelevant page content took up 76% percent of screen real estate leaving 24% for content. He compared that to the New York Times which had a 90% focus on content.

Surely a no-brainer as to what we need to do? Obviously the business context needs to be considered here but a few charts made me think about the rationale used in designs.


This slide outlines the access areas that a page needs to display, note that it must be adaptive and that the technology of the site doesn’t prescribe a treatment for the interface.

Instead of showing everything available on the site on every page, we need to be more targeted about what we present to the user. Wroblewski backed up his observation by urging us to do some thinking for our users.

Why do they bounce

He cited the book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. The upshot is that when confronted with too much choice, a user will use the back button, the most simple choice – and bounce rates are inevitably increased unnecessarily. More bad news is that the peak value for a user conversion was between 2 and 3 seconds.


This slide states the attention deficiency of users in general

The idea of giving the user a tailored experience, and not making the user think is exactly what helps define a good design and fulfil its business objectives.

Design principles for engagement

From what Wroblewski said about good content page design , I took his comments and also added some of my own to form some overarching principles.

  1. Content – build for focus, deliver on what you offer, short, concise and easy to scan, forms the best platform for engagement. Build bespoke channels for visitor flow but ensure they are flexible. Flexibility, or adaptable user paths are key to an engaging and versatile site that can accommodate changes in site structure and user needs.
  2. Calls to action – think about CTAs and their presentation, give clear choices and make sure they are not too numerous. CTAs (and even the necessary evil of advertising) will be welcome if relevant.
  3. Context – Maximise credibility through visual design, this helps build trust. Build credibility through visual hierarchy in the minimum space possible and an appreciation of a user’s situation (where they came from, the origins of the traffic). Make sure the user gets easily grounded on arrival  and can orientate themselves.

I think Luke Wroblewski deserves great credit for crystallizing the thoughts of many designers and getting the statistics together to back up his common sense approach to the problems designers face.


By stating methods to enable engagement, Wroblewski has furthered my thoughts behind the arts of persuasion and conversion. For this reason I have bought his latest book, Web Form Design and will be posting a review on the site, later in the year. Form design is a major hurdle where so many users fail to convert, and I believe this book will be invaluable in addressing that.

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